Desiree Oliver is making her voice heard

Social injustice has ignited Oliver to make a difference

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Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

By James DiLuca, Collegian Staff

This past year, the gruesome death of George Floyd shocked the country. Floyd’s death as well as the death of Breonna Taylor reignited the conversation around racial inequality, an issue this country has dealt with for a long time. The Black Lives Matter movement became a driving force due to the injustices exhibited by law enforcement.

More recently, on Jan. 6 of this year, Trump supporters violently stormed the capitol building as congress was about to formally name Joe Biden President of the United States. The Capitol Police used only pepper spray to combat the mob of Trump supporters. This was a very different response compared to how they reacted to the Black Lives Matter protests.

Additionally, the day before the capitol riots, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced that no charges would be brought against white police officer Rusten Sheskey who shot Jacob Blake, a black man, seven times because Blake had a knife.

Amidst all these events, redshirt junior Desiree Oliver has been motivated to use her platform as a student-athlete to try to speak her voice and advocate for change.

“Sometimes we can feel so small and we’re not really sure how to make an impact,” Oliver said. “But more recently I have been recognizing how big of a platform I have with the support of the athletic department and coaches.”

“On social media, posting the things that we do, I feel like that’s really important and a big piece of what fuels my confidence.”

Oliver is grateful that the coaches and athletic department surrounding the team are supportive of her.

“Our coaches are really involved. They were talking to us, and giving us the opportunity to speak up,” Oliver said.

“A lot of people don’t recognize how that support can affect our play on the court. That’s a huge piece of our success, just trusting our coaching staff and having a good relationship with them,” she added.

Head Coach Tory Verdi praised Oliver’s actions and has taken notice of her leadership role within the team when talking about social justice issues.

“She is someone that I feel has really taken that stand to advocate and talk about those concerns,” said Verdi.

“She has done a really good job of getting her teammates together, and the team together to talk about everything that’s going on in our country.”

The UMass women’s basketball team has gotten off to a great start this season with a record of 10-5 but they have also been looking to make an impact off the court by advocating for social justice. The Minutewomen have looked to come together as a team and have had conversations about the events that have taken place in the U.S. They have had team meetings discussing what’s happening outside of basketball dating back to the summer.

“We’ve had a bunch of team meetings and check-ins,” said senior captain Sam Breen, “Upon getting back to campus it’s been a lot of meetings to educate ourselves and connecting with other student-athletes.”

“We’re just trying to let everyone’s voice be heard,” Oliver said. We’ll come together and meet, share ideas, and just try to have an open dialogue.”

Oliver, along with the help of her teammate Destiny Philoxy designed warm-up shirts that will help to serve as a reminder of those who have been killed due to police brutality.

The team debuted these pregame warm-up shirts in January with the messages, “Black Lives Matter” and “#SayTheirNames”. The shirts also have a list of all the unarmed African American people who have fallen victim to police brutality.

“Once the NCAA approved [jersey] patches and once we saw the NBA put things on their jerseys, we were like that is definitely something that we would want to do,” Oliver said. “Destiny and I put our heads together and said why not put all the names on one shirt.”

Oliver expressed that when she first heard about what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, she felt a sense of anger and confusion. However, Oliver soon realized that she could channel the negative energy that she was feeling and turn it into something positive.

“Initially it was anger,” said Oliver. “But that fueled me to settle down and find other ways to create change.”

One of the ways Oliver is trying to create change is through educating others. Oliver understands that some individuals are taught prejudiced beliefs and that’s all they know but trying to reach out and educate those people is a step in the right direction.

“You can’t be mad at someone acting a certain way if they don’t know any better,” Oliver said. “Just trying to educate people and telling them to educate the people around them and trying to keep that chain going.”

James DiLuca can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @DiLucaJames.